This Memorial Day weekend, let’s look back on 10 Dead Gaming Artifacts. These 10 relics are ancient history now, helping to build up gaming as we know it, but now gone the way of the dinosaur. Now all we can do is remember them for what they used to be like, and for the contribution that they made to gaming in general. These 10 Dead Gaming Artifacts show us not only what gaming used to be like, but how quickly our medium is growing and changing every day.
Proprietary Controller Ports have been around since the inception of gaming, and only recently have they gone extinct. Most console developers have realized that it’s easier to simply use a plain old USB port. Any sort of controller DRM can be handled on the software side, but some companies, like Sony, don’t even care about that anymore, allowing you to use all manner of third party controllers as long as they have enough buttons. Now, if only they would let us use USB keyboards and mice for shooters.
Before there was HDMI, before there were component or composite AV cables, there was the pass through. You simply hooked up your console via coaxial cable to your TV, and then changed the TV to channel 3 or 4 in order to interrupt the normal broadcast feed. Even older consoles, like the Intellivision, actually passed through TV antennae! TV input technology has come a long way in 30 years.
Oh, the humble cartridge. We have come a long way since we had to blow into our NES carts to get them to work. Disc based media has been the flavor of the week recently, but even they are starting to get phased out for digital distribution. Cartridges still survive today in portable media, in solid state storage based games on the DS, 3DS, and Vita, but it’s really not the same without blowing in it, clicking it down, and eventually resorting to a cartridge cleaner.
Back in the day, if you wanted to be the best at your game of choice you needed a strategy guide. It would tell you all the moves, all the strategies, tell you where all the hidden treasures were. Unfortunately, the internet has largely made these guides obsolete. If anything, sites like GameFaqs have proven that most of the info in these guides is actually pretty inaccurate and incomplete. When gamers have access to a daily updated bank of knowledge on every game in existence, it’s hard to get them to drop $15 on a book that was written using only knowledge that was available before the game went public.
Before we had battery backups and hard drives, we had passwords. Simply copy down your password when you are done playing and enter it back in when you want to start from where you left off. The interesting thing about passwords is that they were largely smoke and mirrors. Your game wasn’t really “saved” in the password you were given. Passwords were just encrypted ways to reference and write to specific data points. The game isn’t actually remembering what you did, it’s just starting a new game with all the variables from a prior playthrough. Then again, it could be said that this is exactly what saving a file to a hard drive is doing as well. So how much of a saved game is really “your game?” That’s a question for gaming philosophers.
For every reason that the strategy guide is obsolete, the tip hotline is that much more obsolete. Back in the day if we couldn’t beat our favorite game, we called into the Nintendo Power or Gamepro hotlines for a whopping .99 cents a minute! There, we were put in touch with someone who barely knew anything about gaming, reading off tips and tricks from a piece of paper. When we were kids, we used to fantasize about having this professional gaming job, never knowing the soul sucking reality that comes with working at a call center.
Cheat devices are one of the most loved pieces of extinct video game hardware. Gamesharks were still being released for the PS2 last generation. Unfortunately, the advent of firmware and console operating systems kind of put these powerful little devices to bed. Not only that, but cheat devices became used for much more than simply granting yourself infinite lives. They were instrumental in the rise of piracy and they completely broke some online games, either by conferring an unfair advantage or simply by desynching two players. Some consoles can have custom firmware hacked into them which gives them access to cheat programs that do largely the same thing as a Gameshark or Game Genie, but that would require an amount of hacking most people are uncomfortable with, and would kick you offline forever to boot.
The history of saving your game has been one fraught with quick evolution and innovation. Battery backups were first integrated into cartridges on the NES, SNES, Genesis, and so forth. However, disc based media was essentially nothing but data. You couldn’t really fit a battery backup save on a disc, could you? Making discs re-writable would have been a whole other usability problem and would have made consoles incredibly expensive. Enter the memory card, the powerful little device that saved all your games. Memory cards were essentially tiny solid state drives. In a way, hard drives are actually less technology advanced, but undeniably more powerful.
There was a brief period in time where our ability to make interesting and complex games outgrew our ability to store said games on portable media. Thus, multi-disc games and disc-swapping was invented to give you more and more space to tell the story you wanted to tell. Games like Final Fantasy VII would share a lot of redundant data on every disc. The basic game systems, menus, items, and even locations would be copied over perfectly between each one. It was only the code for the events that transpired on each disc that was different, which is actually a surprisingly small amount of a disc’s available space. Today, our advanced Blu-Ray discs can hold massive amounts of data, and even if we somehow made a game that was bigger than a BD could handle, we can install games onto our console hard drives so that we never have to swap a disk again.
Finally, we have the granddaddy of all extinct game artifacts, the reset button. The reset button’s purpose was simple. It would clear out all of a console’s RAM without turning it off. That’s it. The thing is, it usually held no purpose. Games quickly developed in-game ways to return to the main menu and problems that required a RAM flush generally were better handled with a power cycle anyway. In fact, the only reason why it existed in the early days of gaming was to allow you to quickly try and reload a game that was acting glitchy for some reason. By the time the reset button was on its way out, some game developers figured out ways to integrate the reset button into gameplay, sneaking in codes and gameplay quirks and… ugh… Mr. Resetti.